Youth work students becoming youth work staff

The future of a youth work student.

Last week was youth work week. A time for us to reflect as a profession on how awesome we are and how we change the lives of young people. I think we did it pretty well this year… But I hope next year we do it bigger and louder. But enough about how awesome we are now. I was reflecting today that we are coming to the end of another year and that soon in Australia there will be close to 1000 youth work students graduating a Certificate IV, Diploma or Degree in youth work. November see the end of most courses and with it a vast array of new talent added to the pool.

As staff in the field we need to embrace these newbies with arms outstretched and hearts wide open. The likelihood is that half of them will not last a year because of the trauma, lack of support and meagre pay conditions. The sad fact is that we are losing such talent and passion because of things which can be managed and fixed. We know why people leave the sector. It has been documented extensively, spoken about at conferences and plans have been made… we just haven’t done anything to address it.


With this in mind here are our top 5 ways you can support a youth work student to succeed as a youth worker in your agency:

  1. Get to know them. This seems pretty straight forward for most of us, but it is the number one reason we hear over and over again in supervision sessions for conflict in the workplace. Managers, get to know your staff on a personal level as well as professionally. Find out what makes them tick, about their family and their aspirations for the future. If you are a colleague, invite them out for a drink, have peer supervision sessions, mentor them, perhaps you could even take them under your wing and support them for the first month or two.
  2. Give them a good orientation. There is no amount of leg work you can do later in their work than to give them a good orientation. Make sure they understand their role, other peoples roles, where the bathrooms are, the best place for coffee, how to work the photocopier, emergency procedures, the person to call if they lose their keys… everything you can think of. Make sure they take notes too. Its a pain in the butt and a massive amount of knowledge to take on board, but it will save you heaps in the long run.
  3. Allow them time to ask questions. Im sure you can remember starting a new job, I know I can. I had heaps of questions and they came in fits and spurts. Sometimes one question a day, other times one question a minute. Allow space in your schedule and the teams schedule for this to happen.
  4. Recognise limitations. We all want someone who can start a role on the run. The fact is even the best staff member will need to start slowly. recognise that they will not know how to do the job in the way your organisation wants it done straight away. They will not know how to use your systems, your resources or your language. This comes with time and support. Give them this. Remember they are new.
  5. Celebrate the newbie. Have a bit of a party at the end of the week. Make a fuss over them to the team and the wider organisation. Write a bit in the staff newsletter. Congratulate them for lasting the distance through interviews, checks and their first day. Make sure everyone knows their name!

This holds true for those new graduates that will be starting in your organisation soon. However, it also holds true for any new hire. Provide them with support, care and encouragement from the start and you will have amazing workers supporting your young people.

Leave a comment below if you can think of any other ways to support new youth work student graduates.

Student placements: youth work training ground

Over the course of my studies I have completed close on 200 days of field placement. As a youth work student this consisted of a 30 day and a 35 day direct service provision placement. I worked with some amazing youth work practitioners and I worked with some really poor ones. I got coffee and photocopied documents. I ran programs for young people and youth workers. I even got the chance to reflect on my practice. Overall I give these placements a seven out of ten for preparing me for the world of youth work. But that still leaves three points for a perfect score.

Student placements

Student placements are a great learning environment

So here are my thoughts on how to get those extra three points.

  1. Have something for your placement students to do. Since becoming a lecturer I have worked with over fifty students on placement. The one thing that is guaranteed to stuff a placement up is if the student has no key tasks to do. If you offer student placements, have a project in mind. Make sure you speak to the student to see what they need and want to get out of their placements. Its better for them and it is good for you.
  2. More communication is better. On one of my student placements I had seen my supervisor three times in 44 days. It was infuriating. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I had questions that weren’t answered. I didn’t trust him and didn’t get the chance to develop rapport. You should touch base at least twice a week. Once to make sure tasks are being completed and once to reflect on their placement. Communication is the most important task you have.
  3. Understand your student. Ask them lots of questions. Do a DISC profile with them. help them to reflect on who they are. Jan Fook has some great reflective tools in her books. Find out what makes them tick and drive that in them.

If you do this during student placements you will get a lot out of your students and they will get a lot out of you.

Youth ministry and youth work not quite the same

I am writing this while sitting in a session at the National Youth Ministry Convention in Tweed Heads on the usually sunny Gold Coast. It is always a real blessing to get together with some really committed youth ministers who want to see their young people become the best they can be. Last night over 300 of us joined together to hear Brad Griffin from the Fuller Youth Institute speak about the need for churches to embrace young people as part of their community rather than banish them to the kids table. An issue that the  wider community struggles with as much as anyone.

Youth Ministry in Australia

Youth Ministry in Australia

This morning I heard the amazing Jo Saxton speak about the need for us as leaders to lead from the inside out. We need to know ourselves, what makes us tick and what gets under our skin. Youth workers are leaders we need to know these things. We need to be challenged to think about who we are and why we do what we do. Jo asked us to think about what is holding our leadership back… our appetites, our need for approval or our ambitions. Great questions for us all.

The thing that has struck me most is the focus. Youth workers know much of this! if you have completed a degree in youth work you have been hammered with these ideas for three years. If you have completed a theology degree… not so much. Where youth work focuses on the young person as primary client, Youth ministry see young people as the mission field. Where youth workers see young people as significant contributors in the community, youth ministers see young people as needing guidance in right living. Youth workers see the person first. Youth Ministers see the person through a lens of scripture.

I have said before that all youth ministers could be youth workers, but not all youth workers are youth ministers. I have heard many youth ministers state that they are youth workers over the last two days. This is dangerous. it is trying to hook onto the coat tails of another profession. If youth ministers want to be youth workers this requires qualification and vocational shift. Sometimes it is ok to just be who you are. I do believe youth ministers would be better equipped if they had some youth work training under their belt.


Self care is hard if you don’t plan for it!

Self care is hard

So my last two months have been absolutely crazy. I have spoken at the Tasmanian Youth Conference in Launceston. Presented at the 16th International Mental Health Conference on the Gold Coast. I have also completed four weeks of my final field placement for my Master of Social Work and taught three classes a week in the Bachelor and Grad Dip Youth Studies program at Eastern College Australia. To top it of two of my children have had birthdays and half a dozen other extended family members decided to have them as well. I confess, my self care has gone right out the window.

Self Care SeminarI have a self care plan. I review it every three months. Even still I have been overcome by events. My sleep patterns are shot. I am living off coffee and even that has started to wear off. I generally feel pretty wrecked. This all because I wasn’t ready for the tsunami of events that have come my way. I knew they were coming and I smiled and watched them come. I didn’t enact my self care plan. I was an idiot!

Self care is hard if you don’t plan for it! I knew I was going to have a few crazy months and I penciled in the idea of having my quarterly retreat and then never did anything about it. I knew I needed to recharge the batteries before heading into this period of my life… but I put it off. Now I am paying for it. No self care strategy works unless you put it in to action. My strategy calls for a period of rest and reflection before long stints of work which never happened. Did I mention I’m and idiot!!! Self care is my baby. I would speak about it until I am blue in the face.  Yet even poor little old me is lost without my plan and its implementation.

Don’t forget to implement your plan! Self care is hard if you don’t plan for it! Its impossible if you don’t work your plan.

Youth mental health

Youth workers as mental health gatekeepers

We’ve been asked a fair bit over the last month what our stance is on mental health. There seems to be two camps growing up in the youth sector. Those who see us as generalist youth workers who do not need to know about mental health except that we should refer on to more qualified help and those who believe that as one of the biggest issues facing our young people is something we should know about…mental health. One camp is ignoring issues for the sake of the profession, the other is seeking to adapt with the times.

It will come as no surprise to our long term readers that we sit in the later camp. We believe that youth workers provide a first responder service to young people experiencing mental health issues in the same way that paramedics provide physical health services. We often provide gatekeeper services to mental health support through triaging the case and providing support until a mental health professional can take them on. We do this now, and with little or no specific mental health training. We believe that by our inaction in dealing with our young peoples mental health we are, by default, causing harm to them.

We are not advocating that all youth workers become mental health clinicians. We are saying that we need more than a mental health first aid certificate. A two day course is not enough. We need to faithfully support our young people in all their trails and tribulations. We need to come to grips with the fact that our training programs written decades ago have lost their relevance and we need to update our frameworks. It is up to the academics to change the course structures. It is up to the sector to demand this. It is every youth workers responsibility to become better than they are right now. Mental health is only one area we need to become more proficient in.

Youth mental health

Youth worker mental health gatekeepers

What are we up to: Youth mental health

We have met with a number of our supporters lately and one question keeps coming up…What are we up to at the moment? We have been at the forefront of discussions in the youth sector for the last three years and to be honest the cuts to the sector have taken their toll on us. This year did not start with the bang we had hoped for.

But like the phoenix we are rising from the ashes! over the last couple of months we have focussed in on what you have been telling us over the last few years. We keep hearing that youth workers all over Australia are feeling out of their depth when supporting their clients with mental health issues. This is often due to a lack of training. The historical focus has has also been against us with psychologists and social workers being the key players in this space.

Over the next few months we will be taking the knowledge we have gained and we will give it back to you! We will be focusing on what we need to know to face the young peoples challenge of the 21st century… youth mental health.

Let us know what we can do to help you and your organisations meet the challenge of youth mental health. We will be running some training by the years end specifically for youth workers… and more than just mental health first aid.

Youth work: The professional relationship

I have been rereading “Youth Work Ethics” by Professor Howard Sercombe lately. I forgot how good a read it is. Clear, concise and straight to the point. What got me was a really interesting discussion of professions being a relationship. Particularly, that by building this professional relationship we build trust in our clients allowing them to be vulnerable in our presence. Sercombe states, “Youth work creates spaces within which that can happen well, and walks with young people through the process of it happening“.


Professional relationship at its best

As a youth worker I have been involved in the discussion of professionalising our sector for over a decade. All too often the focus of professionalising is setting us apart from our clients. It is putting in rules and policies which hold them at arms length from us. Other ‘professions’ such as psychology and nursing are often held up as benchmarks because of this ‘professional distance’ from their clients. We look to them and attempt to emulate their style because we live in a notion of professionalism which is rooted in the sociological view of professions from the 1950’s. However, many youth workers around the world struggle with this as it further separates us from our clients. It empowers us and further oppresses them.

If we as a fledgling profession decide to follow in the tired old footsteps of professions gone before us we will continue to further push our clients away. This goes completely against the grain of our core values. Youth work is a relational profession! Building professional relationship is at the core of all our work. As Sercombe says, “It is a partnership within that space – a covenant… in which youth worker and young person work together to heal hurts, to repair damage, to grow into responsibility, and to promote new ways of being“.

This is the joy I have when I think about our profession. We are partners in the journey with our young people. We walk alongside them in joy and sadness, lows and highs. Looking towards a bright new day. That is a professional relationship!

We need to develop our youth work research base

Youth work research has come a long way over the past decade or so. We have gone from a profession that was grappling with how we used others knowledge in our practice to one that was seriously beginning to develop our own knowledge base. We have gone from having a few key researchers to a burgeoning professional and academic research cohort. We are developing more post graduate students and more PhD’s every year. Yet, we still have a long way to go to cement our research credentials as a profession.

One area that needs to be developed is our practice wisdom. We need to hear about the research of youth workers on the coalface. What is working? What didn’t work? Where are the gaps? What do we need to do to take the profession forward? These questions and many more will be best answered not by the academics who are removed from practice, but through the collective wisdom of those youth workers completing the hard yards day in and day out.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we have always tried to shine a light from those at the coalface to those in academia. We have been quoted in academic journal articles, spoken at conferences and worked with hundreds of youth workers to get the knowledge of the coalface worker to the rest of the sector. Our commitment to youth work research has never been stronger.

We are currently getting some research out about the state of youth mental health training for youth workers in Australia and New Zealand. Our research is shining a light on the gap between current youth worker training in mental health and the needs of our young people. This youth work research has come out of the hundreds of supervision and training sessions we have run over the past three years where youth workers have been ignorant of the basics of mental health.

Research is one of the things which give a profession credence. We need to have more research from the trenches to inform our sector. What will you bring to the table?

Its our third birthday!!!

Happy 3rd birthday Ultimate Youth Worker

Happy 3rd birthday Ultimate Youth Worker

Another year down and we can’t thank you all enough. In one of the toughest years to hit our sector in over a decade Ultimate Youth Worker has felt the pain. By December 31 2014  our clientele was cut by 60% due to the ferocious cuts to youth service provision by the federal government in Australia. The first half of the year we were on track to move from three part-time staff to all being full-time staff. However when the cuts came into effect we also felt the pinch and for the last six months Ultimate youth worker has been one part t-time staff member, Aaron Garth.

We launched our Employee Assistance Program and provided support to dozens of staff members across three agencies. We spoke at conferences and events across Australia including YACWA’s Fairground conference and as a local speaker at NYMC Encore. We have provided supervision to dozens of individual and group supervision clients. We have kept up the good fight to see youth workers stay supported in their roles to have longevity in the field. But it has been the hardest year we have had.

We want to thank all our supporters, clients and colleagues who have made Ultimate Youth Worker such a big part of the youth sector here in Australia and internationally. If you want to continue to support us we are looking to grow again this year through our supervision, training and support services… so get in contact.